This week, I look at strategy. Not so much draft strategy, but development strategy. And how development strategy drives draft strategy. If you live in a relatively populated section of the country, there's very possibly a Friday night (or afternoon) college baseball game of moderate interest taking place within an hour of you. Properly positioning scouts for said games is a step along the way to developing a deep system, which leads to success in the standings.
Each team has to develop a strategy to be ahead of the curve. The Cubs strategy in days-gone-by was... rather a mystery. The Braves draft pitching-heavy. The Rangers are committed to high-upside talent, content to accept whiffs along the way. Among the curiosities of the Cubs drafting strategy is a willingness to go 'away from' velocity.
Ideally, they'll still want a guy with mid-90's potential. That said, the draft goes three days and 40 rounds. By Round 12, most of the highly touted options are either signed, or strongly committed to college. To pluck value from the third day, a sideways method of selection helps. Or, something counter-intuitive. Especially, if it works with your development strategy.
Many team “waste” third day draft picks on players who never escape the Arizona or Gulf Coast League. The team that can find a degree of value in the 18th or 22nd round has a dividend-like residual over teams like that.
Today's experiment is to look at a fictitious player, tracking him through a reasonably potential career in the Cubs pipeline, and showing why the Cubs system can be so darned effective. With the look of the depth forming in the minor league pitching corps, it seems to be doing just that. Whether from the draft, or not.
Our fictitious player under discussion today is a 6-2½, 185 righthander named Knight Brooks. A junior pitcher, he pitched briefly and somewhat ineffectively as a college freshman. He stepped up to a contributing role as a sophomore, and has started what will turn into a 9-4 season with just over 100 innings and an ERA of 3.23 as a junior. I'll put his walks per nine at 2.8, and his strikeouts per nine at a reasonable 6.7 level. His FB velocity is 88-89. He is the theoretical Friday night guy for Southern Illinois-Carbondale.
(I put the hyphenated portion in there, as my niece attends SIU-Edwardsville. I wanted her to know this guy, in theory, goes to the school not located near St. Louis. As it happens, it helps having her as my St. Louis people. I ran into a comment on Facebook recently plugging some "St. Louis-style pizza." I wasn't aware St. Louis had a style of pizza. Rachel told me it features a hyper-thin crust. Think 'cheese and crackers' consistency. Now I know.)
Southern plays in the “better-than-you-might-expect” Missouri Valley Conference. For someone to win in that conference with an 88-89 mile per hour fastball, it's somewhat safe to guess he can change speeds rather well. Whatever Brooks' offerings are to get him to 9-4 in the Valley in over 100 innings, he would have to have some moxie. Maybe some deception, as well.
"But, that fringy velocity."
I knew you'd go there. Hold that thought.
Imagine that in the 20## Draft, the Cubs select Brooks in the 17th round. Though, it could be the 23rd. Or whatever. He's one of those guys that all but the most prospect-geek-like people would disregard immediately. If they heard his name at all.
The Cubs sign him, send him to Mesa, and he gets 12-20 innings between Mesa and the Northwest League. Maybe, by that time, they'll add a rookie league team somewhere. To get more guys like Brooks more looks.
As he's sent home after the season, a professional nutritionist has told him the best foods to eat to develop as an athlete. A professional trainer has given him a rather fleshed out in detail work-out regimen. When to lift. How much to lift. How often to run how many miles. And, he's given a date to report back for instructional ball in November.
When he arrives for that, he has more time to get to know the players in his general experience level. (His first few months were more about getting him game action, and less about mountain hikes and hours of pitchers-fielding-practice.)
At Instructs, the coaches may have a tweak or two for his delivery. Perhaps a different grip, or release point, that has proven more-effective for others like him. With no games to attend to, or classes, he is a full-time athlete. More weight-lifting. More running. More healthy eating.
After two years of being in the Cubs system, with all this specialized attention, what do you think Brooks' height and weight are?
Remember, he was 6-2½, 185 pounds before. Each player reacts as they do to a dietary regimen and weight-training. However, it's reasonable to see Brooks up to 6-4, 210 if he takes the "body as a temple" thing seriously. If, with less professional training/nutrition/coaching, he was at 185, how hard does the 210 kid throw?
No linear relationship is accepted. However, if he honors leg day, and the rest, it's viable to see Brooks up to 92-93 as a starter, I should think.
At some point, perhaps, the Cubs realize they have better starting options that the 92-93 mile per hour Brooks. Even though he has quality off-speed stuff. When he reaches a certain level, the Cubs (who have his rights pure and clear through his inaugural draft season, plus the next three entire seasons) decide to turn him into a reliever. He retains his best secondary pitch, and has a third he might use on occasion.
Now, he's built for a one- or two-inning stint, exclusively. He has no reason to hold back. How hard can the "93 mile per hour fastball as a starter" Brooks throw if his entire outing figures to be less than 20 pitches? 94? 95?
What the Cubs have effectively done is turn a pick on the third day that almost nobody gave a second-thought to when his name was printed on a draft list, into a guy pitching 94-95 out of the bullpen with a starter's repertoire.
That's how you create pitching depth.
The Cubs like to start with guys who can pitch. Then, let the weight room, proper coaching, and nutritional basics add four-to-six miles to the heater.
One other edge the Cubs have over some teams, regarding Brooks, is the power of the pocketbook. While all owners have plenty of money to spend, Tom Ricketts allows Theo Epstein and crew a bit of free rein on draft spending.
Not only will they spend to the limit, they are willing to pay the cash penalty on the slight overages that are simply punished with a dollar-for-dollar penalty. This could add a decent prospect per season.
However, regarding Brooks, there's another edge. One that rarely gets mentioned.
While many teams “skimp” on third day bonuses ("Why pay five figures in a bonus for a guy unlikely to reach the majors?"), the Cubs are readily willing to pay reasonable bonuses. Bonuses received aren't a part of baseball that teams like to chat about much. Especially, after Round 10.
Teams can, without any penalty, pay up to $125,000 as a signing bonus to a player in Rounds 11-40. With Brooks as a junior, he might require a larger bonus than $10,000 to leave Carbondale a year early. If the Cubs buy his background, commitment, and repertoire, he sounds worth at least $50,000 in bonus. If the brass thinks they can develop him into a useful piece.
That wasn't necessarily the case with the Cubs through the years.
Arizona State's Eli Lingos continues to shine, early this season. Through three starts, the LHP has an ERA of 0.89. Through 20-and change innings, he's surrendered ten hits. He's fanned 20, and walked three. He allowed only an earned run against Loyola Marymount on Friday night, pushing his record to 3-0.
Freshman catcher Lyle Lin and junior infielder Andrew Snow are the best hitters. Only Snow looks worth drafting yet, but mind Lin for the future. Both are hitting .429, while playing in every game.
Make an early case for a player or two on your team. Should he be a high, medium, or low priority? There are 40 rounds.
Look for MLB scouts to descend on Sacramento this weekend. Sacramento State has the best pitcher not appearing on any mock drafts yet. Read up on a week in the draft, including news on Justin Dillon.
Have a great week. As usual,
Think for yourself. Ask questions. Be nice to others.